There are no vampires in Kai Rodriguez’s hometown.
When the 6-foot-3 outside hitter left Gilroy, Calif. — self-proclaimed “Garlic Capital of the World” — and arrived at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, he was ready for the next chapter: senior year at Moanalua High School.
Being in Honolulu has its benefits, such as taking in the defending two-time NCAA champion Hawaii Rainbow Warriors’ games.
“I love going to UH games. When I was vacationing here, I’d play beach volleyball, and some of my supporters are now my friends. They followed my journey and that’s really cool,” he said.
Rodriguez, Justin Todd and Zack Yewchuk, a.k.a. the “Big 3,” originated from faraway places and relocated to the islands with one goal: to play for the UH men’s volleyball team. All three had been recruited, then committed to the Warriors and coach Charlie Wade. They officially signed in the winter.
The byproduct has been superb for Moanalua, which is ranked No. 6 in the USA Today Super 25. Na Menehune had a strong showing at the Best of the West tournament last month, and followed that with a championship run at the Hawaii Invitational, beating host ‘Iolani in the final. They suffered a five-set loss to Punahou in the championship match of the Clash of the Titans event on Saturday.
There has been a bit of culture shock, even as volleyball and academics dominate their waking hours. Yewchuk had never tried Spam before.
“The first time I had Spam, not my favorite thing, but as my friends kind of forced me to eat it more and more, I like it now. At tournaments, there would be a parent to bring Spam musubi, so you eat whatever you have. I grew to like it,” he said.
“I had committed to UH right before I left Canada. Even before I played volleyball, I always wanted to go to UH. We vacationed here, turn on the TV and it’s Spectrum Sports and it’s always a UH sport. I want to play pro and the coaches here are really, really good. Players from here have gone on to play pro. The atmosphere is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Meanwhile, Todd misses at least one thing about his hometown of Houston.
“Barbecue ribs. As someone who grew up in Texas, we had ribs all the time,” he said.
There is one thing that’s different for Todd now. He has friends with kitchen skills.
“My friend Adam (Haidar) makes a great pumpkin pie. Kalen (Smith)’s brownies are really good,” Todd said of his Outrigger club teammates. “Honestly, the best brownies I’ve ever had. It’s kind of weird. I don’t know why I have so many friends who like to bake.”
Shoes off, Todd and Yewchuk say they are 6 feet, 7 inches tall. They give Moanalua a kind of big blue wall never seen before on campus. Yewchuk grew up running everywhere, son of a track coach (Scott Yewchuk), playing lots of sports. But his future in volleyball could have been derailed.
“I’m diabetic, so I can’t drink other drinks besides Diet Pepsi. I have a…
Read More: Moanalua’s ‘Big 3’ represent present, future in Hawaii volleyball 2023-04-11 11:15:00